L – P : Archaeology

A Day On Two Sites

Hello I’m Cornelius, one of the partners at L – P: Archaeology. I’ve been doing commercial archaeology for 25 years now, and I know that the following short story will be very familiar to a lot of you, but anyone who has never been involved in a trenching evaluation be warned- this rollercoaster ride of thrills, despair and elation is not for the faint hearted. Some images may contain brickearth.

As described in my earlier post, we are currently conducting a 5% sample evaluation below a car-park in Egham, Surrey. First thing this morning we broke the tarmac on a fresh new trench, full of possibilities. We started to machine away the modern overburden deposits below the surface, taking care to avoid the large water pipe we knew to be in the trench. As our very skilled machine driver was doing this I got a call from another site.

51 miles away to the south lies the lovely house of Brambletye in Keston. An extension is currently being built on the house, which involves digging some small but deep footings. As the house lies next to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Keston Roman Tombs, even very small scale work needs to be watched closely, so I leave the trench in the capable hands of my colleague Mike and zoom off down the M25.

When I get to Brambletye the crew have a small 3-ton digger ready, and have soon dug the footing. There is absolutely nothing in it but natural clay, with not even a stray sherd of Roman pot in the topsoil. My disappointment is offset by a very fine cup of tea, and then back to Egham to look at the trench.

In my absence Mike has cleaned and recorded the trench beautifully. A single linear feature in the trench has been sectioned, and is clearly a wall footing of early 20th century origin- possibly the wall of the doctors surgery we were told about by the very helpful staff at Egham Museum, who were kind enough to show us their collection of old maps. There is no other archaeology visible in the trench, so I survey it using a Smartrover GPS system and we fill it back in. I lock up the site and head home to write up the days results. Which are that I have driven about 150 miles, shifted a few hundred tons of earth and found nothing of archaeological interest whatsoever.

But it was mostly sunny, and I was out in the fresh air, and I got a close look at a very cool Roman tomb complex. And the tea was very good.

Altogether a fine day.

Photos copyright L – P : Archaeology

The Kitchen Table Theory

It’s not my table, but you get the idea. Photo: Guy Hunt.

 

My Day of Archaeology began early, over tea and toast at my kitchen table. Having another archaeologist as a house guest has been a great excuse for extended breakfast table discussions on the meaning of (archaeological) life, the universe and everything. I have this pet theory that some of our best and most productive work takes place around the kitchen table, sometimes that might be in the form of a heated debate or at other times, after wiping down the breadcrumbs and spreading out a map or a matrix diagram, it might be in the form of analysis and writing.

Cutting to the business end of this blog entry: what did I do today on this Day of Archaeology? Emails responded, check. Reports printed and sent out to the Local Planning Authority, check. Discussion with other partners about the current state of our projects, check. Clients chased up for payment, check (but no cheque).

I wanted to be honest and write this blog about my actual day today. I didn’t want to dress it up too much and make out that everyday is an endless series of incredible discoveries and eureka moments. Sometimes, the less than glamorous truth is that this job is actually just a job. Running a small archaeology business requires a lot of patience. For every project I do that results in a great find or a fantastic publication, there are countless hours spent organising, negotiating, networking, politicking and generally administering things.

So, although in a way this was “just another day at the office”, it was much more than that, it was a series of tiny steps leading toward the next joyful piece of fieldwork, it was a day of trying to put all of my ongoing projects into the same forward direction.

I have got a really exciting fieldwork project programmed in for August, when hopefully we will be digging test pits into part of London’s city ditch. At the moment the project is in that tricky stage of getting everything set up and ready to go. I need to get my Written Scheme of Investigation into this evening’s post (with a little bit of help from one of my lovely partners) and we need to get staff sorted out and programmed in, we need to get all our logistics in place as well as our health and safety assessments and 101 other vital details. There is also some all important day dreaming to be done about how great this project is going to be and what different technologies (such as ARK) that we can trial on the project.

Hopefully, if I can get through all that, this afternoon I can also get a few more of these small steps done on that fieldwork write up project that has been on my conscience since January.

To all of the other archaeologists in the libraries, archaeology offices, laboratories, site huts and kitchen tables of the world, I salute you.

———-

Guy Hunt is a Partner in L – P : Archaeology a UK based commercial archaeology (CRM) company. Guy also has some archaeology photos on his flickr.